Meet the Improvaneers, an Ohio-based improv team of members with Down syndrome.
The nine-member cast was founded by Rob Snow, who has had a special connection with the community ever since his son Henry was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after his birth.
“This is about three or four hours after he was born — all signs were great, very healthy,” Snow told InsideEdition.com “[The pediatrician] was looking at him and hands him back to us and says, ‘Well, I’m about 80 percent sure your son has Down syndrome.’”
Over the years, Snow said he wanted to find a way to contribute to the community and was inspired by his background in comedy.
“My goal is to create the greatest world I can for [Henry],” Snow said. “After my son Henry was born in 2009, we thought, what can we do to be a part of this community? My mind was racing with this idea of what improvisation can do for people with Down syndrome.”
In 2013, he began a comedy fundraiser, Stand Up for Downs, that has raised more than $450,000 to be donated back to the community.
The series became a huge success, and Snow eventually wanted to bring the experience of stand-up comedy to people with Down syndrome on a whole new level.
He began by hosting classes once a month so his friends with Down syndrome could learn all the how-tos in getting on stage and wowing the crowd.
“It could teach you teamwork and problem solving, quick thinking, confidence, even communication skills, voice projection, eye contact,” he said. “I thought, man if you could teach these skills to the Down syndrome community, their work and social opportunities would just blow up and expand in ways that have never really been.”
Inspired by how it has taken off, he decided to audition a small group of nine people to take weekly classes, each class lasting two hours.
This group, that Snow believes to be the world’s first troop in which everyone has Down syndrome, became the Improvaneers.
“There’s been relationships, there’s been drama, which is similar to any improv group that I’ve ever encountered or been a part of,” Snow said. “What is unique to the group is they have such a sense of loyalty to each other and to the group as a whole. They truly love each other, they’re like brothers and sisters. There’s a couple relationships that have formed. It’s just incredible to see how committed they are.”
He also wanted to make sure each member was gaining valuable life skills from the improv class, and he worked with a behavioral scientist to measure tangible ways in which they were improving.
One cast member, Theresa, worked at Chick-fil-A and spent most of her time organizing, prepping and cleaning up in the back rooms. Because she has challenges articulating, she didn’t spend much time socializing with her coworkers and never interacted with customers.
“Now she is upfront, she greets the customers, she busses tables and things like that, she refills drinks. They absolutely love her, Every employee, they just celebrated her one-year anniversary. They sang to her,” Snow said. “She just had this personality that would come on as soon as she started talking, she just had this energy. Everything she was learning and doing in the class was actually transferring to the work environment.”
The troop performed in two part-scripted, part-improvised shows last month that sold out on both dates and stunned audiences.
"They just blew minds," Snow said. "It was just incredible how it all came together."
Thanks to their success, Snow says he now plans to expand his program, bringing it to more communities and more people with Down syndrome across the country.